Inclusivity in specialty coffee: Meet the roasters striving for equality

Esther Gibbs
August 24, 2023
Radical Roasters, Roasterpreneur, Roasterpreneur Series, specialty coffee, inclusivity in specialty coffee

Our Roasterpreneur Series focuses on inspiring up-and-coming roasters and offers advice on running a successful roastery. This week, we spoke with Cat Manson, the owner of Radical Roasters, about how she built a coffee business based on inclusivity.

As the specialty coffee market in the UK continues to grow at an exponential rate, it can be challenging for brands to set themselves apart. Radical Roasters differentiates itself by being incredibly vocal about the brand’s values: diversity and inclusion. 

“I wanted the business to be a force of positivity and make the coffee scene more accessible to the under-represented groups in the industry,” explains Cat, who has made her way up through the sector by working as a barista, roaster, and head of quality control. “Radical Roasters aims to be a place that empowers as many people as possible.”

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Making specialty coffee more inclusive 

Since specialty coffee emerged in the 1990s, it has been marketed as an exclusive product – even within the industry itself. Specialty coffee must meet certain criteria relating to quality, sustainability, and consumer experience. Subsequently, its reach has traditionally been limited.

For the ordinary coffee drinker, specialty coffee can be daunting. Many view it as an exclusive club they don’t have the required knowledge or expertise to enter. However, there’s been a recent shift in the market as it attempts to shake off some of that exclusivity and open the doors to a wider range of coffee enthusiasts.

Cat explains that everyone’s experience with specialty coffee is different. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion are 100% necessary in order for everyone’s voices and opinions to be heard. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves stuck in an echo chamber of the same experiences from the same types of people.”

Historically, within the UK, the specialty coffee industry has been dominated by white males. “This is not an attack on anyone,” Cat stresses. “I’m simply stating the facts.” Studies show the majority of people need to feel represented in order to feel comfortable entering a workplace.

This is why Cat and Radical Roasters aim to raise awareness and encourage people from all backgrounds to feel like they have equal access to the specialty coffee industry. The brand regularly hosts free training sessions for those from low-income or minority backgrounds. 

Radical Roasters, Roasterpreneur, Roasterpreneur Series, image of muslim girl holding a recyclable coffee bag of roasted coffee, custom coffee packaging, recyclable coffee pakcaging, in an article about inclusivity in specialty coffee

Understanding privilege in specialty coffee

Radical Roasters has developed a strong relationship with a group of refugees from Bristol, and works closely with a local refugee arts collective.

Additionally, the brand often hosts events for women and non-binary people to network and learn together. The brand also actively motivates diverse applications for its vacancies. Advertisements clearly state that ‘people from underrepresented historically marginalised groups in the coffee industry are strongly encouraged to apply.’

Across the board, specialty coffee has often been associated with affluent people profiting off the backs of those who are considered underprivileged. The modern coffee industry reflects its foundations in the slave trade. In the 17th century, indentured black and indigenous people produced the crop in colonial states for the consumption of wealthy, white European consumers. 

To some degree, this dynamic continues today. Most of the world’s coffee is grown in Latin America and most consumers are in wealthy nations in the global north.

“This perception will only change when people recognise and acknowledge it is happening. We have to become more comfortable talking about it and being aware of privilege, not just in coffee but in our everyday lives.” 

Radical Roasters Team, Cat Manson, Roasterpreneur, Roasterpreneur series, in an article about inclusivity in specialty coffee

How can coffee roasters make a difference?

Cat believes one of the most effective ways for coffee roasters to make an impact is to offer free training. “All it takes is opening up some free space in your wholesale barista courses. This is one of the easiest ways to make the coffee industry more accessible to under-represented groups.”

Furthermore, Cat encourages businesses to stand up for positive action when hiring. Additionally, businesses can seek advice from diversity and inclusion experts that are from underrepresented and historically marginalised groups. 

Radical Roasters also actively uses social media as a tool for including more diverse representation. “We have a powerful platform where we can represent everyone, not just the same type of people we see in the industry day in and day out,” Cat explains. 

Social media has been a game-changer for companies, putting the power of branding and marketing directly into the hands of small independent businesses. Beyond this, it has enabled small teams or individuals who are just starting out to reach global audiences.

Radical Roasters are a great example for other roasteries to follow in terms of actively seeking to broaden the diversity of the industry. Actions powerful enough to bring about change don’t have to cost a lot of money, time, or resources. There are several, yet highly effective things brands can do to make an impact and have better practices within business. 

For the specialty coffee market to become more accessible, it is a matter of educating and providing the much-needed guidance to lead consumers to what specialty coffee has to offer.

At the same time, it is important to reflect on how business practices and services can be more inclusive so that a specialty coffee culture that is open and accepting exists for everyone.

At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of sustainable coffee bags for specialty coffee roasters. Made from environmentally-friendly materials like kraft paper, rice paper, LDPE, or PLA, our coffee bags are recyclable, compostable and biodegradable.

Fully customisable from the type of coffee pouch to design, we can help you find the best packaging that is appealing yet humble and approachable for your customers.

Did you enjoy this edition of our Roasterpreneur Series? Learn more about running a successful coffee roastery by reading our interview with the founder of Rascal Coffee, Alex Dalton. Or dive into articles that revolve around our coffee community, with exclusive interviews with roasters, importers, and coffee shop owners.

Photo credits: Radical Roasters

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging solutions, contact our team. 

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